Scholarship encourages ECU students to help rural hometowns after graduation

East Carolina University senior Carley VanHoy wants to make a difference in the world, starting with her hometown. The Mount Airy native and elementary education major is one of nearly a hundred ECU students receiving a scholarship for such resolve.

VanHoy gets financial support for college from the Golden LEAF Foundation, which was created to strengthen the economies of rural or tobacco-dependent communities in North Carolina. (LEAF stands for Long-term Economic Advancement Foundation). Each year, Golden LEAF awards scholarships to students from qualifying rural counties who express an interest in returning to the state’s rural areas to work after graduation. Since its inception in 1999, the organization has awarded $44 million in scholarships to 19,000 students across the state. There are currently 709 Golden LEAF scholars in North Carolina, and 82 at ECU.

The Golden LEAF Foundation celebrated its ECU scholars at an on-campus luncheon on Tuesday.

The Golden LEAF Foundation celebrated its ECU scholars at an on-campus luncheon on Tuesday. (Photo by Randy Yiu)

“It was a huge weight off my shoulders, because we all know you don’t become a teacher for the pay,” VanHoy said. It was through Golden LEAF that VanHoy had a paid internship at A Time For Science last summer, sparking an interest in science education and a decision to pursue a master’s degree in the subject.

“I would not be the person I am today without Golden LEAF,” she said.

Many other ECU students echo her sentiment.

“Programs like Golden LEAF have provided me the opportunity to focus on my studies and extracurricular activities, instead of worrying about the financial responsibility that comes along with college,” said Jamie LoScalzo, a senior engineering major from New Bern. The program’s support freed her to become the president of the Dean’s Student Leadership Advisory Council for the College of Engineering and Technology, president of ECU’s chapter of the Institute of Industrial Engineers, and a teaching assistant for several engineering courses.

After graduation, LoScalzo plans to work as a general engineer in a quality and calibration lab in Havelock.

Freshman Trysten Culler from Stokes is in his first year with Golden LEAF and is looking forward to the professional and personal experiences the program offers.

“With this program, I am confident and excited to better myself as well as rural North Carolina,” he said.

The environmental health major hopes to work as a specialist for the local health department or a nonprofit that promotes sustainability. He spoke Tuesday at a luncheon in Greenville that ECU hosted for Golden LEAF Scholars, staff and members of the foundation’s board of directors.

Chancellor Cecil Staton, who was also in attendance, addressed the crowd and said, “It’s a day to celebrate our Golden LEAF scholars. We’re proud of each and every one of you.”

He added that 46 percent of ECU students hail from rural areas – more than double the amount of the next closest institution in the UNC System.

“Like Golden LEAF, we are committed to preparing students, especially students from the rural areas, and giving them the tools to change our state, region and the world,” he said.

Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach said it makes sense that ECU has the most Golden LEAF scholars in the state because the foundation and the university share similar goals and are therefore great partners.

“Golden LEAF is proud to have so many scholars attending East Carolina University because our mission aligns so closely with ECU’s mission of serving the public and transforming the region,” he said. “Golden LEAF is proud to be celebrating 20 years of awarding scholarships to help students who have deep roots in rural North Carolina, who are likely to return home.”

To learn more about the Golden LEAF Foundation, visit


-by Erin Shaw, University Communications